George Bush has done a pretty good job of positioning himself as an "elder statesman" in the United States — at least by comparison with Dick Cheney — but the rest of the world has not forgotten the high crimes and misdemeanors of the Bush-Cheney interregnum.
So the forty-third president will not be jetting off to Switzerland next week, as had been expected.
Bush was supposed to be the star attraction at a fund-raising gala in Geneva February 12. But the news that the former president would be in Switzerland set off a flurry of legal filings — and calls by members of the Swiss parliament — that sought to have Bush arrested upon arrival on torture charges.
Bush has defended the use of waterboarding and other outlawed interrogation techniques in his autobiography, Decision Points, and public statements, effectively admitting that he and his aides approved acts that are banned by the Convention on Torture, the 1987 international pact prohibiting cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment or punishment to which the United States and Switzerland are signatories.
The New York–based Center for Constitutional Rights and European human rights groups had planned to submit a 2,500-page complaint against Bush to legal authorities in Geneva Monday. The complaint details mistreatment of prisoners at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, and was to be brought under the Convention Against Torture on behalf of two men who have been held by the United States — Majid Khan, who remains at Guantánamo, and Sami al-Hajj, a former Al Jazeera cameraman, who was released in 2008.
In addition, a conservative Swiss parliamentarian, Dominique Baettig, had requested that the Swiss federal government arrest of Bush on war crimes charges.
Organizers of the gala event claimed that Bush cancelled his trip in order to avoid protests that might turn violent. But the organizers of the protests, well-known activists on human rights and global justice issues, had actually proposed a symbolic protest that involved nothing more than tossing shoes at the hotel where Bush was scheduled to appear.
Geneva, home to numerous international agencies and tribunals, is arguably more experienced with managing protests than most cities on the planet. The notion that a Bush visit would have been anything more than an annoyance for the gendarmes, and for the broader community, is comic.
Bush decided not to make the trip because, in the words of Reed Brody, counsel for Human Rights Watch: "He's avoiding the handcuffs." [See original for more plus links.]
But are the war criminals out of the legal woods yet? In Spain, Judge Eloy Velasco has set a March 1 deadline to decide if he will prosecute the six Bush-era government lawyers, including then-Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, for violating international law by creating a legal justification for torture. Remember, it was a Spanish court that indicted Pinochet. According to numerous reports, arrests are "highly probable". Documents released by WikiLeaks show that the US has been pressuring Spain to drop the idea. No surprise there!
The US-based group Voters For Peace has written an open letter to the Spanish public: "Dear Spain: Please do what the U.S. won't. Prosecute Torture". The site appears to accept Canadian postal codes, so readers on both sides of the border can add their names.
Although there's little chance these powerful men will be held accountable for their crimes, actions like these help revive memories in our amnesiac world. They should also remind us that the better-looking, smarter-sounding current US administration has not closed the Guantánamo Bay concentration camp, has not ended the occupation of Iraq, and has escalated the occupation of Afghanistan.
In the Canadian blogosphere, I sometimes see references to "the US of 2000-2008," and I wonder, what do they think is different in 2011?